Buying Gear: Local > Online

Hey everybody! I’d like to talk to y’all about music (musical instrument) stores; both the local neighborhood stores and online retailers, eBay, etc…Any of you guys/gals who know me know that my level of obsession with guitars and music gear is borderline ridiculous. I have over 200 eBay transactions buying and selling gear as well as spending many thousands of dollars between local shops, Sweetwater, Musician’s Friend, Sam Ash, and others. Now that my credentials are on display, here’s a story about the experience you can expect to have (eventually) with buying and selling gear online.

I recently bought a guitar from a guy off of It was an old, beat up Jackson Kelly for $200. Now, I was realistic about what I was going to get – an old beat up guitar, but an old beat up guitar that functioned. Here’s part of the description of the guitar from the auction page:

Everything else is original. More importantly it’s a complete guitar ready to play.

Ready to play are the key words here. When this guy shipped the guitar to me he mentioned that he broke a string during shipping and included a new set. No problem! Wrong… There was a problem. One of the saddles fell off of the Floyd Rose bridge as I opened the package. I thought it was weird, but weird things can happen during shipping. As I began to change strings and set intonation on this guitar, I realized two of the threaded holes for the screws that hold down the string saddles were stripped out.

No threadsAnyone that knows their way around a tremolo equipped guitar realizes that it’s very important for those screws to function correctly. If the screws cannot clamp the saddle in place, you will not be able to set intonation and your tuning is also compromised due to the fact that your string saddle can move back and forth. Bummer! Well, I took it in stride and decided I’d see what it would cost to try to find a new frame for the tremolo on eBay. As it turned out, I couldn’t find a replacement for the frame only, so the next option was to buy a whole new tremolo system for $130. At that point, I decided it was more than I wanted to spend on a $200 guitar that was supposed to function correctly in the first place. I messaged the dude I bought it from and said exactly this:

Hey, so I got around to putting some new strings on the Kelly and realized that 2 of the saddle hold down screw holes are stripped out, making this guitar not playable. This was not stated in the auction. What can we do about this?

In my opinion that is a polite, matter-of-fact inquiry. Apparently not! This was his response:

Nothing. It was stated in the auction that it’s used for what, 24 years now? If you stripped something out while changing the strings, that’s not really a big deal, and it’s definitely not on me. I’ll definitely accept a return, these Performer Kellys aren’t exactly plentiful. I can’t refund shipping, though. If you’re looking for compensation in exchange for feedback, that’s extortion. Take it back to eBay… It’s a used guitar that’s decades old. Again, I will refund you 100% if you’re not happy. How about a hell yeah for fast shipping, or safe delivery, or good communication, but nah… You found a stripped screw, it’s icing time!

I was shocked at his response for a couple reasons. One being that he went right to the notion that I’m trying to extort extra funds out of him for no good reason. Also, the fact that he obviously didn’t read my message thoroughly or he would’ve realized that the holes in the tremolo frame were stripped, not the machine screws that screw into them. I’ll spare you the rest of the conversation, but it involved more instances of him misunderstanding what part of the tremolo was damaged. He offered to send me new saddles, lecturing me that Reverb is a community of musicians and my first message was “bullshit”! Remember that my first message told him what was wrong, and asked what we could do to fix it. I will add in that the guy eventually sent me a replacement part and I fixed the problem, albeit after some very unprofessional accusations and poor customer service.

Wait a minute! Customer service! These are two words that maybe aren’t thought about very often. They’re words that people maybe don’t consider to be a big deal, until they have poor… you guessed it! Customer service! These two words are the big difference between buying and selling on online and dealing with, say, Dave down at The Tone Syndicate, a
local guitar shop here in Fargo, ND.

Tone SyndicateHypothetically, let’s imagine how this scenario would’ve played out if I bought the guitar from a local shop. Actually, there wouldn’t be a scenario. A reputable local shop would not have sold a guitar with a jacked up tremolo. That’s right. If a good local store received that guitar in the shop, it would’ve been repaired by a tech before it hit the sales floor. Now just to humor you, if the guitar had gone out the door with a problem, no doubt the customer could bring it back for a fix.

I’m not unrealistic here. I know chances are that you won’t be able to find everything you need at a local shop. You will go online for some things. My point is this: When you deal with a local shop, you get peace of mind. You know you’re going to be getting a product that’s the best it can be. Trust me, something I’ve learned over the years is that a huge percentage of a guitar’s playability and sound come from its setup.

That is the real difference between the buying something online, and buying from someone you know and trust. There’s no guesswork involved in whether you’re going to like the guitar/amp/pedal etc… in question. It’s right there for you to run it through its paces, and the guys running the shop make sure they’re selling you a functional product at a fair price. I encourage everyone to support their local music stores when they can. Just like if there’s no support for a band out on the road playing gigs, it’ll only be a matter of time before they’re forced to call it quits. I, for one, do not want to see music stores become a thing of the past. They are needed. They are essential. Well, unless you want to solely deal with whack jobs on the Internet for your musical instrument needs anyway.

If you’re in the Fargo/Moorhead area visit The Tone Syndicate for all your musical needs!


Paul Harvey Johnson: NYDM 5SRC ND Captain

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